Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: So
Definitive Version: SW Live EP, 1994. Accept no substitutes. I mean it, even though a recording of the exact same performance appears on the Live at Athens discs in the remastered and expanded So that came out in 2012. For reasons that are unknown, the mix to Mercy Street on Live at Athens was futzed around with, which resulted in losing some of PG’s haunting vocals in the extended coda—the very thing that makes this version so incredible.
Much like The Who’s performance of Tommy at Woodstock, seeing this particular performance of Mercy Street is a whole different ballgame from merely hearing the recording, as great as it is. Most of the performance, PG is kneeling or lying on stage, almost completely obscured by Vari-Lites that hover just above him as he goes deep into channeling the tortured specter of Anne Sexton. All the while, this incredible music is swirling about him.
It’s a riveting performance. Seeing it for the first time on the PoV video, which I rented from my video store in Grand Blanc, launched this song into my personal stratosphere, from where it hasn’t come down. (Look for the clip of PG in full Genesis shaman mode.)
When I learned that Laurie was into Peter Gabriel, I had to include this particular version on the first tape of tunes I made for her. I was all but certain she never heard it before. I gave her the tape on New Year’s Day 2005 when we had our Christmas gift exchange, which followed a rather tumultuous night before ringing in the new year.
The plan, at Laurie’s initiative, was for dinner at another Indian restaurant that she wanted to introduce me to and then rock in the new year with Rockin’ Billy and the Wild Coyotes at the California Clipper. I didn’t love rockabilly, but I loved Laurie, so I was fine with whatever she had in mind.
However, I had a plan of my own. I DID love Laurie. As I mentioned (good ol’ No. 236), I knew it when I saw pictures of her at Jin and Paul’s wedding a week before. And I was going to tell her what I thought and what I felt before the clock struck midnight that night.
It didn’t matter whether she felt the same. I wasn’t going to do it to try and garner some response or action. I wasn’t going to say it to try and change her mind about me. All that mattered was I felt it, so I was going to say it. Heck, for all I knew, she might read my declaration as “moving too fast,” and we might never see each other again afterward as a result. I could live with that.
So we spent the entire New Year’s Eve day with that in the back of my head. In what had been my favorite year up to that point, the final day of 2004 would be a glorious one, cementing my rebirth.
It was a sunny day, and the weather was positively balmy for December. Laurie, being a sun lover, said, let’s get out of the house and take a walk. Sounds good to me.
It was close to 2 when we finally headed out. We started down Damen Avenue. Laurie wanted to hike down Damen, because it had a bunch of cool antique stores that she wanted to check out as we walked.
We both were hungry, so we stopped along the way at a Thai place that Laurie had been by dozens of times but had never tried, which was funny considering how close to her apartment it was and how much she professed a love of Thai. The name of the place was Aroy Thai, and it was quite good. (In fact, it now is our go-to neighborhood Thai.)
We walked down Damen until we hit Addison. Laurie wanted to head to the lake at some point, and I thought going past Wrigley Field to get there was as good as any route. Besides, Addison had stores that catered a bit to my interests as well as Laurie’s.
The lake had a lot of activity for a late December day. Apparently everyone else was doing what we were—getting out to enjoy the day before going off to do whatever it was they would do to celebrate the new year.
We hiked along the lake, hand in hand, as we had most of the previous walk. The sun began to set behind the skyscrapers that lined the streets just west of the lake shore, and it was getting dark by the time we made it to Foster to complete the huge square.
We took a massive walk that day. When I figured it all out later based on Chicago’s grid geography, I calculated that our walk had to have been at least five miles, perhaps six.
Then it was time to start our formal (official) New Year’s Eve. Laurie drove us to the area I now dub Indian Village. Unlike Tiffin, the first Indian restaurant I went to with Laurie (good ol’ No. 124), Hema’s Kitchen—Laurie’s choice—was a hole in the wall off the main drag on Devon. It also was BYOB, so we had to stop at a nearby liquor store to buy our beer.
As much as I enjoyed Tiffin, Hema’s was my kind of place. It was more informal, like being in somebody’s home, and the food was excellent. Even better, I didn’t gorge myself to the point of nearly bursting like I had at Tiffin, so the evening was off to a great start.
We headed out to the Clipper sometime around 9. The Clipper is close to where Laurie’s friends Ann and Barry lived at the time, and they were having a party that night that would become an after party for us. But it was in kind of a rough neighborhood, Laurie said. I didn’t care. I’d driven through the Robert Taylor Homes back at night back in the day. It can’t be worse than that.
We parked about a block or two from the Clipper, and although the neighborhood was more run down than Laurie’s, it didn’t seem that bad. Besides a bunch of people were out on the street, heading, like us, to the Clipper.
The bouncer greet us at the door. He wore a blue mohair full-length coat that seemed to have been skinned off the back of Sully from Monsters Inc. He had a huge blonde Mohawk haircut and funky sunglasses, which completed the awesome surfer-biker look.
The place was pretty crowded by the time we got there, so all the tables and seats were taken. We found a spot on the windowsill just inside the front door and made that our hangout, which made it a good location for passing-by teens to make smoochy faces at Laurie and me whenever we hugged on each other. (I never saw them, but I doubt I would’ve cared.)
Wild Billy hit the stage sometime after 10, and he was as advertised. Again, any music in the right venue can sound good, and rockabilly in the Clipper that night was just the right thing even though it isn’t my preferred brand of rock. We danced a bit and sat a bit. Mostly we just talked and held each other close. I felt as though what had been on my mind all day—all weekend, really—wouldn’t go over badly. What was important to me was that I wouldn’t be afraid to say it.
Finally, it was getting close to midnight. Wild Billy finished whatever song he played, and the final minutes to the year began to tick away. The crew at the Clipper passed out complimentary flutes of (cheap) bubbly as well as leftover party favors. (Laurie and I grabbed hats when we arrived.) One minute … Wild Billy announced. It was time.
I turned to Laurie and said to her that I was so glad to be with her here on this night. She smiled. Then I said: “Listen, I don’t know the future, and I don’t where any of this is heading, but I know this, absolutely: I love you.”
All of the air seemed to get sucked out of the room as Laurie’s eyes fluttered a bit. She gasped, in no way expecting that what I was about to say was what I ended up saying. I didn’t want her to say anything she didn’t feel, and I certainly didn’t want to her to repeat what I had said just because I said it. She said nothing, which was the right call. Instead she just gave me a big hug and a kiss.
The final seconds were dutifully counted down, and Laurie and I kissed to begin 2005. Wild Billy and his band launched into a bluesy Old Land Syne that segued into a deliriously dreamy version of Amazing Grace. I never cared for that song, but that night, in that moment, Wild Billy’s version was almost as good as PG’s performance of Mercy Street had been 17 years before.
We were looking into each other’s eyes, dancing slowly, and I felt the love I had for Laurie reflected back even though it went unsaid. It was a love I hadn’t felt in years. Yes, 2004 was a Hell of a year.